Yoga, meditation being pushed as ways to cut prison violence, boost well-being


Even though some politicians have derided prison yoga programs as unnecessary inmate “coddling,” there’s a growing push for their expansion across Canada.

Advocates say yoga and meditation boost inmates’ mental well-being and help to reduce prison violence. They point to the success of programs in the U.S., including one at California’s San Quentin State Prison, notorious for housing some of the most dangerous offenders.

The question – can the downward dog really benefit those doing hard time? – will be the focus of a discussion next month at a conference of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association.

“We’re interested in promoting (offenders’) return to the community with better skills than when they left it. If meditation helps them become more self-aware and helps them control their anger, then it’s really advantageous,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, which advocates for prisoners’ rights. “It contributes to the successful re-integration of people.”

The society is in the process of taking over administration of Freeing the Human Spirit, a Canadian charity that has provided yoga and meditation classes at more than two-dozen provincial and federal institutions, mostly in Ontario, using volunteer instructors.

Latimer said she is now hoping to expand the yoga and meditation programs – which she says cost very little to run – to more institutions across the country.

This summer, a study out of Oxford University found prisoners who went through a 10-week yoga program had a more positive mood, were less stressed and performed better on a computer test of their impulse control.

Expansion of yoga in Canadian prisons may still be a tough sell for some. The federal Conservatives appear to question the value of prison yoga. Asked this week if the federal government would consider

providing funds to help expand such programs, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said via email: “Our government’s focus is on making sure the correctional system actually corrects criminal behaviour. Let me be clear: No taxpayer dollars have been spent on this program.”

Edmonton-area yoga instructor Chantele Theroux, a speaker at the upcoming criminal justice conference, doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. Theroux, who also works as a provincial investigator specializing in fraud and forensic investigations, said prison inmates often have anger issues, impulse-control issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder – in other words, they’re prime candidates for exposure to yoga’s calming effects.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Meditation Improves Focus and Grades in College Students, Research Shows | Elevated Existence

As reported in the journal, Mindfulness, a study of university students in California found those who practiced meditation scored better on tests, and those who meditated before classes focused better and concentrated longer, the UK Telegraph reported.

With just six minutes of meditation before a test, students showed better results, according to Jared Ramsburg, a University of Illinois doctoral student who co-lead the study. In one experiment, the meditation even predicted which students passed and which students failed the quiz.

The research found meditation training worked better on freshman students, who may have more difficulty concentrating. “This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing,” said George Mason University, Virgina, professor Robert Youmans, who co-lead the study with Ramsburg. “Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university.”

Researchers also believe taking long walks in the morning to plan out the day could have the same positive effects as meditation. “Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit – in this case, doing better in college,” Ramsburg said.

via Meditation Improves Focus & Grades in College Students, Research Shows | Elevated Existence.


Ethics program looks at prison meditation – Pueblo Chieftain: Faith & Religion

“Guiding Rage into Power” — GRIP is a program in California’s San Quentin prison that uses meditation to help inmates address the root causes of their behavior.

The creator of the program tells correspondent Kate Olson that even though they are in prison, they are nevertheless part of a community, and they are learning not to create violence but to resolve it.

via Ethics program looks at prison meditation – Pueblo Chieftain: Faith & Religion.


Marines Testing Meditation Training; May Teach ‘Mindfulness’ To Young Recruits For Mental Stamina

BY IBTimes Staff Reporter | January 20 2013 1:51 PM

In an effort to alleviate the physical and mental strain on troops, the U.S. Marine Corps is now including meditation in its training regimen. It is launching a pilot program using concepts of meditation and mindfulness — concepts aimed at teaching Marines how to keep their attention active and minds focused.

U.S. Marines from Lima Company 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, return fire during a shootout with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s Karez-e-Sayyidi, in the outskirts of Marjah district, Helmand province, on May 15, 2010.Ideally, the training program will help Marines to think more clearly when they are under pressure by having them practice yoga and by having them slow their breathing while concentrating on a single body part, the Associated Press reported.

via Marines Testing Meditation Training; May Teach ‘Mindfulness’ To Young Recruits For Mental Stamina.


What is the Outdoor Classroom by Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s new book, Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms, clarifies the vision of the outdoor classroom, and explains simply and clearly how it addresses the needs of today’s children. He kindly agreed to share some extracts with Collage readers. I hope these selections encourage you to get and read this excellent book.

The Outdoor Classroom: Fulfilling a Vision for Childhood

The Outdoor Classroom’s vision is simple: children benefit from spending more time outdoors, especially in natural places. Its goal is equally simple: to increase the quantity, quality, and benefit of outdoor experience for children. Here is an overview of the key features of the Outdoor Classroom:
• The Outdoors is a Primary Environment for Children The outdoors is an important learning
environment. Learning takes place outdoors that doesn’t occur indoors. It is important, then, that outdoor environments be as richly and thoughtfully equipped as indoor ones. Children should be able to move seamlessly between indoors and outdoors; their play and learning should be as easy in one place as the other. Adults should not treat one location as more educational than the other.

• Freedom for Children to Play on Their Own A fundamental principle of the Outdoor Classroom is
children’s right to initiate their own activities. Children need to explore, imagine, try new things, and learn alone or with friends. Ultimately, what any of us learns most deeply is what we have explored “by ourselves.”

• Learning Takes Time Too many adults who work with children try to hurry them. Pressuring
children to hurry up inhibits rather than accelerates learning. Like almost everyone else, children learn best when they are relaxed and have open-ended time in which to create their own activities. They need time to refine and anchor new skills. The Outdoor Classroom encourages children to spend as much time as they want outdoors. The time children have is often directly related to the freedom they have.

• Children Need Physical Activity Physical activity is necessary for children’s development and health.
Open space offers children opportunities for big movement, vigorous social play, and explorations big and small. Their activities help them refine motor skills and teach them how the world works.

• A Full Range of Activities The Outdoor Classroom believes, “Everything you can do indoors, you can
do outdoors, and even more!” Part of the Outdoor Classroom’s vision is that indoor and outdoor spaces constitute a single learning environment.

• Comprehensive, Holistic, Emergent Curriculum Curriculum is one of the trickiest elements in ECE.
How do we support children’s development instead of imposing our own adult agendas on them? In the Outdoor Classroom, we view curriculum as more than the adult-designed course of study or activities. Instead, it is everything that happens during a child’s day, everything that a child comes in contact with. Adults observe and respond to children’s needs and interests, taking this expanded understanding of the curriculum into account.

• Engaged Children and Engaged Teachers Engagement is key to learning. Real learning occurs only
when children become engaged with the environment and the people in it, usually through activities that they themselves initiate. Paradoxically, in ECE settings, this means that truly engaged teachers are often in the background, observing and responding rather than leading. Engaged teachers support children who are initiating their own learning.

• Developmentally Appropriate Activities The term “developmentally appropriate” in the Outdoor
Classroom means that activities always lie within children’s capacity to handle them and are never forced on children. Developmentally appropriate practices are fundamental to effective learning and to the well-being of children.

Moving Beyond This Year’s Hot Topic

To the uninformed eye, the Outdoor Classroom may look like nothing more than children playing outside, as children always have. But play in the Outdoor Classroom means something much deeper. And that something is not just the next hot topic, the next new thing. Rather, it is a return to a very old thing: child-centered learning. The Outdoor Classroom shifts ECE from a primarily indoor, teacher-initiated model to one that embraces outdoor, child-initiated play as critical to children’s well-being. By moving children and their activities outdoors, the character and type of what they do are transformed. Children regain control over their activities and become responsible for their own learning and growth, supported by attentive adults who ensure their safety and stimulation. Teachers relinquish control to become observers and supporters.

The Silent Emergency

The changes we have wrought in childhood in order to protect children from danger constitute a silent emergency. I call it an emergency because of the rapidly escalating negative effects it is having on children and society at large. I call it silent because the combined impact of several unintended consequences make it so damaging, yet the collective impact of these consequences is rarely discussed or addressed. I believe that the Outdoor Classroom can help early childhood educators address this emergency.

These are the seven most critical issues facing children today that we will discuss here:
1. Lack of exercise
2. Preoccupation with electronic media
3. Perception of outdoors as an unsafe place to play
4. Isolation from and fear of nature
5. Lack of engagement in and connection to the world, including nature
6. Reductive approaches to ECE
7. Epidemic use of behavior-modifying drugs on young children

The Outdoor Classroom helps to restore the traditional benefits of childhood while addressing these challenges:
1. Getting children outside and more active
2. Involving children in hands-on, loose-parts outdoor play
3. Creating opportunities to learn how to handle outdoor risks safely
4. Connecting children to nature in ways that encourage them to connect more deeply
5. Teaching children about cause and effect through outdoor and interpersonal activities
6. Providing children with a wide range of activities that support their holistic development

From Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing
Child-Centered Learning Environments by
Eric M. Nelson. © 2012 by Eric M. Nelson. Reprinted with permission of
Redleaf Press, St. Paul, MN;

About the Author

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson
co-founded the Child Educational Center, Caltech/JPL Community near Pasadena, CA, in 1979. As the Director of Consulting and Educational Services, he manages the Outdoor Classroom Project. An adjunct professor since 1977, Eric developed a course on outdoor classrooms, which evolved into a series of outdoor classroom specialist trainings. He presents on a broad range of topics related to outdoor classrooms and consults on the design of play yards. Eric’s understanding of the value of the outdoors is grounded in a lifetime of hiking his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains in California since he was a young child.

What is the Outdoor Classroom by Eric Nelson.